WATCH: Black In America 4 Airs Tonight
Soledad O'Brien is chronicling the NewMe Accelerator journey in "Black in America: The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley," airing Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CNN.
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Wayne Sutton has been asking venture-capital investors and Silicon Valley executives a question that's not often broached here in the epicenter of the technology industry:
"Why aren't there more black people in tech?"
The vast majority of top executives at the leading Silicon Valley tech firms are white men. Women and Asians have made some inroads, but African-American and Latino tech leaders remain a rarity. About 1% of entrepreneurs who received venture capital in the first half of last year are black, according to a study by research firm CB Insights.
This lack of diversity in Silicon Valley made headlines last month when influential tech blogger Michael Arrington, in an interview for CNN's upcoming documentary "Black in America: The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley," said, "I don't know a single black entrepreneur." Arrington later recanted the statement, saying he was caught off guard by the question, but the sensitive issue sparked a public dispute between the newly minted venture capitalist and CNN's Soledad O'Brien.
It's an issue that Sutton, who co-founded the NewMe Accelerator for under-represented minorities in the tech industry and is also building a software company, has been grappling with for months.
NewMe is an incubator program formed to help minorities launch Internet ventures. For two months last summer, Sutton and seven other black entrepreneurs worked together in a rented house in Mountain View, California, where they got advice from successful executives and pitched their startup ideas to investors.
The venture capitalists, including business-software designer Mitch Kapor, told them the struggles of blacks in the tech industry might be attributed to a concept called "pattern matching," which is prevalent in venture-capital circles and yet alien to the rest of the business world.
"Silicon Valley really likes to think of itself as a meritocracy," Kapor said. In fact, "the general state of Silicon Valley is completely backwards," he said.
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